It comes amid a dramatic rise in Asian hornets, with this year accounting for half of all sightings recorded in the last seven years. Nearly 35 per cent of the UK’s confirmed sightings to date have come this month alone.
Londoners are being urged to learn how to identify the destructive species, which preys on honey bees.
Joel Soo, 43, was harvesting honey from beehives in his Thamesmead garden on Saturday evening when he spotted a single Asian hornet.
“I saw a huge creature flying around and it crossed my mind thinking ‘that’s just a big wasp or a hornet’,” he told the Standard.
“When I saw the tell-tale signs of an Asian hornet, I quickly ran to my kitchen to get whatever container I could. I told myself ‘I need to catch this fellow, because if it’s just a sighting it’s just talk’.”
Mr Soo, an architect who has been beekeeping since 2019, captured and photographed the insect and informed the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s National Bee Unit (NBU).
“It was a bit of a shock when I first saw it,” he said. “The next morning I went out to my beehives again thinking OK, it’s probably just a one-off, and that’s when I saw another two or three more flying around the hives.”
He set up bait stations to attract the hornets with a mix of sugar water, jam and yeast, and alerted the authorities.
On Monday morning, the NBU visited and found an Asian hornet nest in a tree, in a green space near to Mr Soo’s home. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (Defra) confirmed it is to be destroyed this week.
Asian hornets first arrived in Europe in 2004, when they are thought to have travelled to France in a shipment of goods from east Asia.
They have since spread rapidly across France, and into neighbouring countries.
There have been 46 confirmed sightings in the UK since 2016, 23 of which have been reported this year, including 16 this month.
The vast majority of sightings have taken place in Kent, with a number also recorded in other counties. A total of 29 nests have so far been destroyed in the UK.
Asian hornets - Vespa velutina - are a “highly aggressive predator” of native insects, and pose a particular threat to honey bees.
One hornet can hunt down and eat 30 to 50 honey bees a day, according to The British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA).
BBKA chair Diane Drinkwater said: “Asian hornets are wreaking havoc in Europe and we fear if they get a foothold in the UK our honey bees and many other insects will be decimated here, too. They are the greatest threat to beekeeping since the Varroa mite was discovered more than 30 years ago.”
Dr Gavin Broad, Principal Curator in Charge (Insects) at The Natural History Museum, told the Standard increased temperatures are likely to be making the UK more hospitable to the insects.
“We have a chance to stop the species becoming established, unlike much of mainland Europe,” he said. “However, as numbers increase in nearby countries, there is an increased chance that Asian hornet queens will arrive in the UK and establish nests.
“Last year’s hot summer and the balmy late spring weather this year were probably much to the hornets’ liking.
“Although Asian hornets represent one of several threats to Honey Bee colonies, they pose little risk to wider wildlife. They will eat some other insects but mostly eat honey bees, which are mostly farmed.”
He said increasing public awareness of the hornets is key to preventing them from getting a foothold.
Asian hornets are slightly smaller than native hornets. They have a dark abdomen with a distinctive orange stripe. Unlike native hornets which have dark-coloured legs, the invasive species’ legs are bright yellow.
Richard Mcintosh, Assistant Chief Plant Health Officer at Defra, said: “While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than other wasps or hornets, they can cause damage to honey bee colonies and other beneficial insects.
“We ask people to look out for any Asian hornets and if you think you’ve spotted one, report your sighting through the Asian hornet app or online. Asian hornet nests will be smaller at this time in the year, but we are still asking people to be vigilant.”
If you suspect you have seen an Asian hornet you should report this using the Asian Hornet Watch app or by using this online report form. Alternatively, e-mail email@example.com.
For more information on how to identify an Asian hornet, click here.